The first time I came home from abroad I was 17, and had just finished a year as an exchange student in Germany.
I remember stepping off the plane and walking into my hometown’s tiny airport where my friends and family were waiting to take me “home.” I was so proud of all I’d done and who I’d become during my year abroad.
But I was also really, really scared.
What will my life be like now?
If I talk about Germany, will it sound like I’m bragging?
Will I ever go abroad again?
Despite my fears, the first few weeks were great. I ate all of the foods I’d missed, I snuggled with my dog, and grinned from ear to ear as my friends and family happily looked at my scrapbook.
Two weeks in, I thought I was winning
I was under the impression that if I could survive the first few weeks back at home, I was good to go.
What I didn’t realize is that I’d only experienced one small part of re-entry. Instead of being nearly over it, re-entry was just beginning.
After returning home, all I could think about was going abroad again. In college I majored in German so I could spend a year studying in Stuttgart, and then I became an English teacher after graduation so I could spend another year abroad.
I felt the most alive out exploring the world and found that grad school gave me the perfect excuse to continue living and traveling abroad. I spent a few more years in Germany and traveled around Europe, the US, Central and South America, and Australia.
It’s probably no surprise that I wrote my PhD dissertation on study abroad, and that most of my career has been focused on helping global adventurers thrive before, during, and after they go abroad.
Even though I was thrilled with all of the time I spent abroad, and the way my international education career was shaping up, something always felt….off.
It took me years – and a lot of pain and searching – to figure it out.
I’d never resolved re-entry.
Sure, during my first re-entry I spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d changed as a result of living abroad but for the most part, I had no idea how to process my complex and conflicting emotions, navigate relationship issues or deal with any of the other myriad challenges that arose after I returned “home.” So, I brushed my feelings aside as much as possible and just got on with life.
Years later I realized that the deep effects of this unresolved re-entry were so subtle that I couldn’t ever put my finger on anything specific. But it was always there influencing my relationships, career decisions, and general level of happiness.
My primary re-entry coping strategy was to go abroad again. This strategy worked for many years — and going abroad so often actually made me a stronger person. But then I got married, my parents started getting older, I finished grad school, I moved…basically, my life started changing and I could no longer simply up and leave when I felt re-entry closing in.
At one point in my late 30s, I felt stuck, lost, and just generally unhappy. Even though I had a loving and supportive husband, a great international education job, and liked where I lived, I just couldn’t shake a feeling of deep restlessness. I felt like such a failure; I wasn’t living abroad, nor was I happy in my home country.
I felt as though I were carrying a backpack full of stones that had suddenly become too heavy to carry.
I began asking myself some tough questions:
Who am I if I’m not living abroad?
What does “global” mean to me at this point in my life?
What’s most important to me right now?
Who am I and what do I want?
What is it about traveling and living abroad that makes me feel so alive?
If I move abroad again, what do I want the experience to be like
I also slowly worked through the lingering grief, guilt, and loss inherent in living abroad and choosing a different life path from important people in my life, and other personal issues.
After deeply reflecting on what I learned and experienced abroad, who I am now, and what I want my life to be like going forward, I was able to make peace with re-entry.
Then I intentionally created a thriving global life that incorporates the things that are most important to me at this point in my life, no matter where I in the world I am. I call those things my Global Life Ingredients and they’re the people, ideas, connections, etc, that make my life meaningful, satisfying, and “global.”
Oh how I wish I’d learned all of this sooner!
My Wish For You
I frequently hear globetrotters – whether expats, study abroad students, international teachers or long-term travelers – lament that re-entry just sucks and there’s nothing you can do except commiserate with others and muddle though until you can go abroad again.
That’s exactly what I always thought….but now I know it’s not true! There are things you can do to make re-entry a positive and growth-oriented experience.
Whether you’re repatriating after several years abroad or returning “home” after studying, volunteering or teaching abroad, my wish for you is that you make the most of your re-entry and create a “relaunch” that you’re actually excited about! That you use re-entry to intentionally create a global life that you love – on your terms – no matter where in the world you are!
A great place to start is with my popular Re-entry Relaunch Roadmap creative workbook (so far is has 14 5-star reviews on Amazon). If you sign up below you’ll get 30% off the workbook! If you’d like to connect with other globetrotters in re-entry, join a Re-entry Roadmap Mastermind, start a Re-enry Roadmap Book Club.
Re-entry is NOT the end. It’s the beginning of your next adventure!
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